When things get old they leak. That includes old pipes, dams, faucets and hoses.
And it also includes the walls of your digestive tract. Those leaks – known as leaky gut syndrome – are more than a mere annoyance. They make you age faster.
Researchers believe that much of the health-damaging inflammation that accompanies aging – sometimes called inflammaging – is linked to our increasingly leaky guts that allow harmful substances to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.
Here’s what you can do about this. . .
Breaching the Barrier
When everything is functioning as it should, the thin mucosal layer that coats the inner lining of our intestines, along with cells in the intestinal walls, allow nutrients into the bloodstream but keep out microbes and large molecules (such as those from food that is not completely digested).
If large molecules or undigested food particles do pass through, they can wreak inflammatory havoc in the body.
For most of our lives and under most circumstances, this barrier does its job effectively.
As you get older, however, this barrier starts to break down. According to researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, this gradual disintegration is connected to epigenetics, the activation or deactivation of certain genes by exposure to factors from outside the cell.
A gene called dMyc may be gradually deactivated in intestinal cells during aging. As a result, neighboring cells sense that the dMyc-deficient cells aren’t working right, and eliminate them. Then, as more and more cells in the intestinal wall are destroyed, openings appear that spur on leakiness.
In lab tests, the Buck researchers discovered that cutting back on the amount of food we take in could potentially slow or reverse this process and keep the digestive tract from becoming too leaky.1
“The possibility that dietary restriction, or the use of dietary restriction mimetics (drugs that imitate the effects of dietary restriction), could help prevent this decline in humans opens a new area of research that could influence healthspan and longevity,” says researcher Pankaj Kapahi, Ph.D.
Stress Messes up Your Gut
Stress is another big factor that increases leaky gut, say researchers at Ohio State. In their investigations, they found that married people who quarrel a lot are especially prone to having leaky guts.2
“We think that this everyday marital distress – at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness,” says researcher Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, who directs Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
In their tests, the Ohio scientists discovered that women and men who exhibit more hostility during “discussions” with their spouses generate increased blood levels of LPS-binding protein, a biomarker for leaky gut, compared to couples who get along better. And the levels of this protein were highest in participants who had histories of depression and other mood disorders and who had particularly stressful arguments at home.
In addition, the people who had leaky guts also had higher blood measurements of LBP – which indicates bacteria circulating in the bloodstream – as well as C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation.
“With leaky gut, the structures that are usually really good at keeping the gunk in our gut – the partially digested food, bacteria and other products – degrade and that barrier becomes less effective,” adds researcher Michael Bailey, Ph.D.
Two Supplements for leaky Gut
Along with avoiding stress – and slam, bang fights with your spouse – researchers at the University of Plymouth offer another suggestion for dealing with leaky gut: zinc carnosine and bovine colostrum.
These researchers looked into leaky gut because they were trying to help elite athletes avoid this digestive issue. Apparently, it can be a problem during intense exercise. Plus, during a hard workout on a hot day, leaky gut makes you more prone to heat stroke.
The Plymouth group’s tests demonstrate that zinc carnosine boosts the protection offered by the mucosal barrier that lines the intestines – and that the barrier is enhanced if you add bovine colostrum, a common supplement often recommended as an immune booster.3
I think these supplements, for many of us, are worth a try to keep leaky gut at bay. Other studies show we do tend to run short of zinc as we get older.4 Foods that are rich in zinc include grass-fed beef, free range chicken, oysters, lobsters, pumpkin seeds and almonds.
For supplementation, 30 milligrams a day is safe for almost everyone, while 50 mg may be a bit high, but only a blood test can determine for sure how much supplemental zinc you may need. Without that you can only guess.